My White People Problem—And Ours

Dear Reader (even those who would, ironically, pretend to know the definition of “ultracrepidarian”),

One of the great things about white people—well, not the people themselves, but their place in society—is that it’s totally fine to crap on them from a great height in ways that would be incontrovertibly bigoted about virtually any other group (save perhaps Christians—white Christians). You can rant about white privilege, white uncoolness, white customs and culture (real and alleged), white bigotry (real and alleged), white bread, white dancing skills, white food, white music, white sexual inadequacies, white whatever, and, at least among certain cultural elites, be celebrated for it. When non-whites do it, it’s courageous, speaking truth to power or just funny. When whites do it, it’s a manifestation of self-awareness, atonement, or solidarity with the oppressed (and, less often, just funny). 

I have no scientific data to support this, but I am pretty confident that one of the few veins of humor a stand-up comic can still get away with on an (overwhelmingly white) progressive college campus is white-bashing. 

Now, I should say, not all of the criticisms are without merit, and many of the jokes are actually pretty funny. This isn’t some alt-right bleating about white victimology, it’s just an observation. Of course, opponents of whiteness will tell you the freedom to not think in such terms is a form of “white privilege,” and, to be honest, I think they’ve got something of a point. Part of being a minority—black, Hispanic, gay, Jew—is having your outsider status remain a bigger part of your self-understanding. When you define “normal” or “mainstream,” you can take certain norms for granted, and that really is a form of privilege. A parallel argument is equally true about women. When a lot of the rules of the game are “male,” women will be more aware of their outsider-ness than men. Don’t worry, I’m not going all intersectional on you. I’m just willing to concede that people who make these arguments have a point, even if I don’t think it’s as important or all-explanatory as they do. 

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